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Do Abdominal Strengthening Exercises Help or Hurt IBS?

I've already written recently about how IBS symptoms can actually be aggravated by certain high-intensity exercises and how conversely, low-impact exercises such as swimming and walking may be beneficial for IBS.

However, I have also been trying to assess more specifically if abdominal strengthening exercises – such as stomach crunches – help or hurt IBS. I have a lot of lower back and hip issues and it's been impressed on me time and again by doctors and physical therapists that it is really important to achieve and maintain a strong core.

Abdominal strengthening exercises and IBS flares

The problem for me in the past was that engaging in intense abdominal strengthening exercises sometimes seemed to bring on an IBS flare. I also have endometriosis and I've read that overdoing core exercises can actually cause more pain for someone with that disease. When I was younger (in my mid-20s) I had a brief period where I did Pilates on a weekly basis. For days afterward, I would be extremely sore in my core. While I do think I strengthened my core, I also started having more gynecological issues and noticed an uptick in my IBS symptoms. I can't tell for sure if it was connected, but if it wasn't, it was a large coincidence.

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Nonetheless, all these years later, and it is still crucial that I keep my core in decent shape to balance my fragile body, due to connective tissue disease. In the summer of 2017, I attended a 6-week rehabilitation program specifically for those with chronic pain. The program tailored exercise routines to the individual needs of the patient.

Finding the right exercise

I mentioned that overdoing core exercises tended to cause a backlash in my body – causing more IBS and irritable bladder issues to ratchet up. As such, the physical therapist I worked with took great pains to work on a series of gentle, low impact core exercises I could do regularly from home that would keep my core in shape without exacerbating the symptoms of my disorders. I now do these most mornings when I wake up and I find it helps reduce my low back and hip pain while not inducing IBS-related issues.

If you also want to keep a strong core but are concerned about or have experienced IBS flaring as a result, try to find a physical therapist who is familiar with the issue (one who does pelvic PT would probably be best) to tailor the right exercise regimen for you and adapt as needed.

Have you found abdominal strengthening exercises help or hurt your IBS? What exercises work for you and what ones bother your IBS? Answer in the comments below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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